Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros

The first time I’ve heard a group of my colleagues excited for an education-related book was for Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros. We all bought a copy of the book and met after each of the 4 parts to discuss the ideas he puts forth. The discussion questions at the end of each chapter made hosting a book club so easy and really made us think as we read through the book. I sketchnoted summaries to help myself remember the information better & want to share them here:





– Laura Wheeler (Teacher @ Ridgemont High School, OCDSB; Ottawa, ON)


Part 1 “Connecting Mathematical Ideas” by Humphreys & Boaler

This post has been sitting in my drafts for ages … as in years!!! I’m just gonna’ hit publish & name it “part 1” with plans to finish reviewing the rest of the book when I can. So here we go …

I’ve been reading the book “Connecting Mathematical Ideas” by Jo Boaler & Cathy Humphreys. The professor teaching the other section of PED3187 “Intermediate Mathematics” for uOttawa’s B.Ed. program (which I’m teaching for the first time this term) uses it with her students. Not having ready it before, I was not prepared to ask my students to purchase a copy just yet.

I have since taken some time to start working my way through it & thought I would include my summary / review here on my blog as I have with other books.

The unique feature of this book is that it comes with 2 CDs of videos from a middle school Mathematics classroom. Each chapter is linked to a video and the teacher & student actions in each clip are analysed by both the teacher (Cathy Humphreys) and a researcher in education (Jo Boaler).

Ch. 1 Opening the Door to My Classroom

Introduces Cathy & her class; a grade 7 Math class in a middle school in California.

Ch. 2 Building on Student Ideas

Cathy moves away from asking students to find an algebraic rule and towards a more holistic approach of investigating growth patterns. The tasks we use in class should be carefully thought out: “How any activity is enacted in a classroom – and what the students learn from it – depends not only on the task itself but on the teacher’s image of the essential mathematics in the task”.
The video shows students working through the Border Problem and how Cathy has them sharing their solutions. Cathy was not looking for the best or most efficient solution. She really works to draw out of her students all of the different ways of representing this growth pattern.
Jo talks about how the same task could be a “closed task” if the teacher breaks it down too much for the students. Cathy, though, keeps it quite open for her students and carefully orchestrates a class discussion that has her students sharing a variety of solutions with each other. The students were making connections between representations and between methods also.

Ch. 3 Building Understanding of Algebraic Representation

We see the students continue their work with the Border Problem, now moving towards creating an algebraic representation of the sentences they created earlier in order to represent the growth pattern. The idea being that algebra and variables give us a shorthand version of the sentence description.
I love this quote from Cathy: “It is so important to study and discuss with my colleagues the effects of different teaching moves; it is one of the things that makes teaching fascinating”. We don’t do this nearly enough!
This chapter also analyses the questions from the teacher, Cathy. Teachers often resort to low-level questions that don’t demand much of our students in the way of critical thinking. We should endeavor to ask rich, open questions that lead our students to important thinking and learning.
Jo elaborates on the various question types teachers use in this article and argues that teachers pose too many type 1 questions that simply gather information or work through a method (e.g. What is the value of x here? How would you plot that point?) when we should be asking more type 3 questions that explore mathematical meanings & relationships (e.g. Where is this x on the diagram? What does probability mean?). The question types themselves are worth reading just to remind ourselves of breadth of probing questions we should be using day to day with our students.

Ch. 4 Defending Reasonableness

In this clip, students are working on the problem “what is 1 divided by 2/3?”. Cathy really wants her students to make sense of the math and not blindly follow algorithms (like flip the 2nd fraction and multiply). This reminded me of a short e-book I read recently called “Nix the Tricks” by Tina Cardone in which she argues that students should not use the shortcuts or tricks or algorithms unless they discover it themselves and therefore understand why they make sense. Well worth the read & it’s free!
Cathy talks about asking her students to “convince yourself, convince a friend, convince a [skeptic]”. I like this idea of the role of the skeptic and think it might be a useful role when my students are doing group problem solving. Right now we do our problem solving in groups of 3 using Visibly Random Groups working on Vertical Non-Permanent Surfaces and I am thinking of introducing the following 3 roles for each group:
– scribe (holds the chalk or marker & writes the group’s work)
– skeptic (asks questions like “how do you know …”, “explain to my why …”)
– sharer (shares the group’s solution with the class at the end)
I feel like this would hold each student more accountable for being part of the solution.
Cathy discusses the value of wrong answers – a topic Jo often broaches when advocating for teachers to work towards creating a growth mindset in their students:
“I was thankful this wrong answer had emerged because of its potential for a useful discussion. I have found the value of wrong answers to be inestimable as sites for learning in mathematics. Children’s errors frequently have a logic that is based on misconceptions or a misapplication of rules they have previously been taught.”
This obviously depends heavily on the teacher developing a positive classroom culture in which students don’t laugh at others for making mistakes and in which students feel comfortable to offer up answer even if they might be wrong.
Cathy also mentions “eavesdropping” on small group conversations as a way of assessing where the students are at on the topic. It is so important for the teacher to be moving around the room and “listening in” to the ideas being shared and discussed as these snippets will help guide the full-class discussion that follows. I remember Garfield Gini-Newman using this technique quite effectively during a workshop on Critical Thinking skills when he walked the room during our small-group discussions. Once back up in front of the whole group Garfield said “I overheard some folks mention …” and he would paraphrase somebody’s thoughts. I thought this was a powerful way to bring ideas to the group as it didn’t depend on the person volunteering their answer and did not put anyone on the spot as it was anonymous.
Jo writes “The act of managing a productive class discussion is extremely complicated and it involves a range of important and subtle pedagogical moves”. I think I’ll use this clip in my PED3187 course in the coming weeks and ask my students to have a back-channel conversation on Today’s Meet about what “teacher moves” Cathy uses to foster the class discussion.
Cathy’s thoughts in this chapter ended with the following insightful quote: “The trouble with teaching is that there are so many paths to take [in a lesson], each with different results!”.

Ch. 5 Introducing the Notion of Proof

In this video clip, students discuss an extra credit problem that was included on their recent test: “A couple of weeks ago, there was a conjecture in our class that
2(n – 1) = 2n – 2. Prove that this is true.”
The discussion that ensues is about inductive vs deductive reasoning (without them using those actual words). Students explain that they substituted a number for n and checked that the two sides are equal. Cathy asks the students “How many numbers would you have to try before you were convinced that it would always work?”. Many students believe that, say, 10 examples would sufficiently convince them. But one student states that even if it works for the first 10 examples, the next number you try might not work, so you would have to try every number! Cathy uses a combination of interesting “teacher moves” to draw attention to & emphasize this student’s contribution to the discussion.
Part of what I love in this book is the thoughtful reflection by the teacher:
“…teaching decisions, especially those made when enacting a lesson for the first time, are complicated and fraught with trial and error. It also makes me appreciate the importance of collaboration. I know that if I had discussed this lesson in depth with my colleagues before teaching it, I would have avoided some of the pitfalls that working in isolation almost guarantees.”
This is so very true. And this is why I love my Twitter PLN because even outside of the school day, outside of my direct colleagues in my school’s Math office, I have the entire world of Math teachers ready to help out when I have questions, need suggestions, etc.
Another thought of Cathy’s struck a chord with me as I’ve been struggling with the same idea of late: “I continue to juggle the competing priorities of making sure everyone’s voice is heard and making sure no one is put on the spot.”

– Laura Wheeler (Teacher @ Ridgemont High School, OCDSB; Ottawa, ON)

Book Summary: Intentional Interruption

Intentional Interruption: Breaking down learning barriers to transform professional practice
(Katz & Dack)

A summary (because that’s how I remember stuff). And maybe you’ll find the ideas they present useful & go out to buy the book too!

Teacher learning influences teacher practice, which in turn has an effect on student learning.
Learning (for both students & teachers) must result in a PERMANENT change in what a teacher knows and does.

As humans, we tend to avoid conceptual change (learning; changing how we think). We often go to PD & assimilate what we’re hearing or learning about with what we already do. For example, while learning about critical thinking, teachers will think of some of the activities they already do that involve thinking critically and will conclude that they are already doing all of this. In order to encourage conceptual change, we need to create cognitive dissonance for the teacher; we need to push back against their current beliefs, provide them with counter-examples, etc.

PD needs to be “just in time” and “job embedded”, meaning a teacher gets the learning they need to fix a problem, at the time the problem is occuring, within the context of where the problem is occuring. Instead PD often occurs outside the school, at random points in time, and tries to teach about ideas or strategies that you might one day need (“just in case” instead of “just in time”). Some alternate forms of PD exist (such as school walkthroughs) that concentrate on teaching the procedural (knowing how to use a certain strategy), but they often forget to also teach the underlying knowledge & reasons (knowing why and when to use the strategy).

Professional development: The dissemination of knowledge to teachers.
Professional learning: An invidual process of conceptual change for the teacher which results in a permanent change in how they think or do something.

Three factors that enable learning:

  • Focus: It is essential to clearly define a narrow learning focus or problem; ideally in the form of a question. eg. “How do we improve students’ ability to estimate?”. Ensure that your idenitified problem is really a problem; is there data to support this notion? The learning focus defines WHAT we will learn.
  • Collaborative inquiry: Learning focus question –> hypothesized strategy –> determine success criteria (look-fors) –> implement –> analyse evidence –> reflect on learning –> determine next question for the next cycle of inquiry. This process happens with colleagues working together, pushing and challenging each other’s ideas and practices, & providing each other with feedback. Collaborative inquiry is HOW we will will learn.
  • Instructional Leadership: This is WHO will lead the learning. A formal, or informal, learning leader will:
    • establish goals & expectations,
    • choose strategic resources,
    • plan, coordinate, & evaluate teaching & curriculum,
    • provide an orderly & supportive environment,
    • promote & participate in teacher learning & development.

Barriers to learning:

  • Thinking that a problem doesn’t apply to us; that we’re the exception.
  • Failing to consider all possibilities (for both the cause of the problem, and the possible strategies we could apply to the problem).
  • Confirmation bias: we look for evidence that confirms our theories instead of seeking out evidence that might challenge and disconfirm our theories (the evidence that will lead to real learning).
  • Focusing on recent or vivid evidence as the majority of evidence. Small numbers of salient or recent cases become exaggerated in our minds.
  • Recognition heuristic: we stick to what we know, what we recognize.
  • Omission bias: thinking that non-action will result in less harm. We are less willing to take an action in case it causes harm, but we forget that we may already be causing harm by keeping things static the way they are.
  • Hiding our vulnerabilities: We don’t want others to see that we can’t do, or don’t know, something. Makes us afraid to open up our practice to scrutiny, make our practice public, or ask questions.

Strategies to “interrupt” these barriers:

  • Focus on topics of learning that are controllable by you (avoid focusing on things you can’t change such as the school board’s priorities, the ministry’s initiatives, the kinds of students that attend your school, etc.).
  • Protocols: A set of guiding instructions to the step by step process for your particular profession learning focus or inquiry type.
  • Explicitly stating our preconceptions; this is the only way that we can then examine and challenge our preconceptions. It is also useful to reflect at the end of your professional learning on how it has changed or affected your preconceptions on the topic.
  • Rooting activities & interventions in the problems of practice:  Probe your colleagues and selves as to the learning focus to ensure it is clearly defined and that the chosen strategies to be implemented are targeting the learning focus at hand.
  • Using contradictory evidence: For example, when reading an article, ask teachers to highlight statements they agree with in one colour and those they disagree with in a different colour. Allow for individual brainstorming before bringing it back to the group to allow for contradictory (or outside the box) ideas to come through. Use the “agree then disagree” strategy when responding to or challenging new information, which requires a teacher to first state everything they agree with before explaining the parts they disagree with (forces them to consider the other perspective).
  • Learn from mistakes: This is a culture shift. Move away from punishing mistakes and set up a culture that truly values these mis-takes as opportunities for learning. Allow colleagues to admit to failures and encourage them to analyse their next steps.
  • Growth VS Fixed mindset: Praise effort, not intelligence. Explicitly teach others that we all have the capacity to learn and that our ability in any domain is not fixed.
  • Problems of practice (aka. learning focus) should be questions that the staff are naturally curious about … questions they actually want to answer.
  • Providing autonomy in task & time: Ensure that people have some choice in what they work on (what they learn about) and the time it takes them to do so.

– Laura Wheeler (Teacher @ Ridgemont High School, OCDSB; Ottawa, ON)

“Teaching Minds” by Roger Schank

A colleague of mine, Lino Degasperis, recommended a book to me called “Teaching Minds: How cognitive science can save our schools” by Roger Schank (a lofty title, don’t you think?). I find I learn best from text if I summarize what I’m reading, so I’ll post my summaries to my blog in the event that some of the ideas in Mr. Schank’s book are of interest to you. Here are the first four chapters.

The old / traditional / accepted teaching style is to tell students information or how to do something & it is their job to remember it & apply it. But this doesn’t work; just listening to a teacher.
We need to have students DOING; to learn in an environment where they have access to feedback (apprenticeship model).

Ch. 1: Cognitive Process-based Education
Learning is goal-oriented. But it is not one of our students’ intrinsic goals to learn the subject matter that we traditionally teach in schools (algebra, physics, etc). However, students do want to learn to be good at skills like diagnosing problems based on evidence through scientific reasonsing (ie. what’s wrong with my car?) and building human relationships through an understanding of one’s self and others (ie. dating), etc. We should organize schools around these types of cognitive processes instead of subject areas. Students could even choose which areas of knowledge to which they’d like to apply these processes, increasing their engagement and interest.

Ch. 2: Teaching Kids to Walk & Talk
We learn from our mistakes and failures. Our subconscious, which controls most of our actions, learns by repeated practice.
Effective teachers:
– provoke students to question their beliefs or a set of known facts.
– don’t give answers; they facilitate students in developing questions to which they can then seek the answers.
– model behaviors and ways of thinking rather than tell students how to behave and think.
– are genuine & authentic with their students.
– act as mentors to students
– encourage students to be true to themselves and follow their intuitions.
– create understanding of how to begin a process.
– help students understand their role in life and the roles of those around them.
We must teach students:
– to be critics
– whom to lookup to & emulate
– to recognize where they fit
– to take actions, and
– to think.

Ch. 3 What Can’t You Teach?
You can’t teach someone something that:
– does not help them reach their own personally-held goals
– goes against their very nature or personality
– goes against their subconscious beliefs (nurturing from early childhood; before 7 yrs old)
You can’t teach someone to be something they’re not. You can only make them aware of their innate characteristics and hope they’ll consider moderating that subconscious trait or behaviour in situations in which they have the time to think it through.
Teach through experiences. We learn by doing.
Teach through stories b/c we engage with stories emotionally and can unpack the ideas behind them through analytical discussions with others.
Let people learn things they are truly interested in.

Ch.4 Twelve Cognitive Processes that Underlie Learning

Conceptual Processes: 
1. Prediction: Predict outcomes of our actions & learn when the actual outcome does not match (when we make mistakes).
2. Modeling: build a conscious model of a process; design it, modify it, & simulate it.
3. Experimentation: The learning that comes after prediction (#1); analysing outcomes/mistakes and adjusting future actions accordingly.
4.Evaluation: Determine the value of something on a variety of dimensions.

Analytic Processes (evidence –> hypothesis –> testing hypothesis):
1. Diagnosis: Knowing where or what to look for as evidence & weighing the evidence (reasoning).
2. Planning: Creating a plan from scratch & modifying previous plans to meet new/different needs.
3. Causation: Understanding & knowing cause & effect.
4. Judgement: Objective. Based on evidence. Requires feedback from people or from reality to record judements as successful or not (in order to learn for next time).

Social Processes:
1. Influence: Studying our interactions with others. Practice new behaviours & get feedback on them.
2. Teamwork: Learning to take on roles that allow people to work together using their strengths to help the team.
3. Negotiation: making deals.
4. Describing: Detailed. What is happening (or what is not).

Learning can be defined as improvement of these 12 cognitive processes achieved through repeated practice & critical feedback (coaching).


Ch. 5 Real-life Learning Projects Considered

We must teach cognitive processes in place of subject-specific knowledge. We can do this by presenting students with scenarios/tasks that require them to use and build their capacity in these 12 cognitive processes. Avoid simply spewing out knowledge based facts. Ask students to do, model, diagnose, & make judgements about a variety of scenarios.

Ch. 6 A Socratic Dialogue

Effective teaching involves real experiences (stored as representative cases expressed through stories), practice, and dialogue.

Ch. 7 Knowledge-Based Education VS Process-Based Education

Teaching students to think critically and clearly is more important than teaching them facts. Teach them how to think, not what to think.
“Knowledge acquisition is a nutural result of engaging in cognitive processes that are being employed to satisfy a truly held goal.” True learning does not come from forced memorisation of facts related to an extrinsically held goal.
Society’s reliance on “testing” leads us to fall back on teaching students facts.
Problems with testing:
– Relies on one right answer; which isn’t often the case in real life.
– Places more importance on subjects that are often irrelevant after high school.
– Causes “teaching to the test” in order to maintain the teacher’s or school’s reputation.
Different schools should teach different things (student bodies will be of different backgrounds, rooted in different cultures, in different geographies, etc.). Likewise, individual students have individual learning needs and interests; they should be able to learn what they need for life and not one set general curriculum for all students. The subject areas deemed “important” change over time and we erroneously devote more time and effort to them. We need to become comfortable teaching subjects or issues that are perhaps not easily testable. School should not be about ranking kids in an academic competition, it should be about teaching skills for real life. Thinking needs to be more highly valued than knowing; trying & experimenting more highly valued than getting “the right answer” because we learn from our mistakes as well as from situations that don’t turn out the way we expected.

Ch. 8 New Curricula for a New Way of Teaching

Schank warns against creating departments surrounding the cognitive processes; this would mimic our past mistake of creating departments around subject areas.
He suggests, instead, a “story-centred curriculum” in which student engage in a real life scenario/context/story where other people take on the role of people the student would encounter in this scenario and the student takes on a realistic role that they might have in the future. For example, a student in health sciences might be asked to diagnose a fictional patient and detail a treatment plan.
By having students work through these scenarios, the students engage with and become experienced in the 12 cognitive processes rather than attempt to gain long-term knowledge (b/c Schank argues that we forget the facts shortly anyway).
Effective thinking looks like this:
predict –> prediction fails –> generalise –> explain –> predict anew

Ch. 9 How to Teach the 12 Cognitive Processes that Underlie Learning

On testing in schools: “The reason we have all those tests is simply because we have no idea how to make people learn all the stuff that is part of that subject-based system without threatening them. No on really wants to learn the Pythagorean theorem … Let scholars know about thee things; the average person just doesn’t need to know this stuff.”
We need to formulate a “case base” in which we index past experiences/stories so that we can learn from ours or others’ mistakes and failures. This must be done through practice and not by telling students about something. We also need need someone to explicitly ask us to refelct on our experiences in order to help us properly index these scenarios and learn from them.
How to teach prediction:
Ask students to make predictions in a variety of scenarios. Explicitly discuss which previous experiences they are drawing upon to make their predictions and how close those “scripts” are to the present scenario.
How to teach modelling: 
Have students create models of physical objects as well as social processes that interest them. They need to understand how and why something works, and ways that it could perhaps be improved.
How to teach experimentation:
The key is that we have to tap into what a student is naturally concerned about or interested in. Teach them to make a hypothesis (predict) and then gather evidence that will confirm or deny their hypothesis. Teach them to evaluate their evidence, draw conclusions, and add them to their personal database of experiences & conclusions.
How to teach evaluation (the assignment of a value to something):
It is very difficult to verbally teach someone to like or dislike something. However, through repeated exposure to an object or event in which we pair it with a positive, enjoyable emotional response, we can start to affect this subconscious process.
How to teach diagnosis: 
Diagnosis requires a great deal of knowledge in the subject area of the the particular diagnosis at hand. It involves knowing what evidence to look for and comparing it to previous cases & experience.
How to teach planning:
Planning usually involves adapting an old plan to meet the current situation, trying it out, and reflecting afterwards on its effectiveness. It involves understanding your goals, how to meet them, the obstacles that might stand in the way, and how to overcome those obstacles. Start by analyzing simple plans for simple situations and build on their successes & failures to build more complex plans.
How to teach causation:
Determining causation requires much knowledge in a certain subject area. It requires analysis of experiences & situations.
How to teach judgment: 
Making judgments is learned by starting with simple judgments, collecting evidence of what results from them, and analyzing their effectiveness. Then we build on this case base of simple judements to form more complex ones. Judgments must be reasoned and based on evidence. Ask kids to make judgments about issues relevant & of interest to them. E.g. Who in your life is a great leader?
How to teach influence:
Influence is taught through analysis of your own case base. It is best taught via a mentor who will discuss your experiences with you and analyze why your behaviour was successful or not.
How to teach teamwork:
Teamwork is taught by working with others, and analyzing our successes & failures as a team. We then try to reduce the beahviours that led to failures and increase the behaviours that lead to successes.
How to teach negotation:
Negotiation is best taught by a mentor or conselor who watches you negotiate and offer tips and advice. Otherwise we learn by analyzing our past experiences with negatiation; what worked and what didn’t.
How to teach describing:
Describing is learned through experience and coaching. Students should be asked to describe orally and in writing on subjects that they are passionate about.

Summarily, cognitive processes are taught by providing students with experiences that begin simply and build in complexity over time. Good teachers provide these experiences and facilitate an analysis of the evidence accumulated, helping students reflect on their successes and failures in order to draw conclusions.

Ch. 10: Defining Intelligence

“There is a difference between ignorance and stupidity, just as there is a difference between knowledge and intelligence”.
While schools and tests tend to test intelligence using math and logic problems, in real life contexts most of us see intelligence as the ability to make a reasoned, evidence-based, coherent argument.

Schank posits that the following cognitive processes are not essential to “intelligence” as we see it:
– evaluation
– influence
– teamwork
– negotation
– modeling (related but not essential)
– experimenting (related but not essential)
– prediction (when it is not supported by causation)
– judgment

These cognitive processes are indicators of a person’s intelligence:
– describing
– diagnosis
– causation
– prediction (when supported by causation)
– planning

Schools concentrate too much on providing a knowledge base to its students. If we want to teach people to be more intelligent, we must teach them to use that knowledge base in order to make diagnoses, plan well, determine causation, and clearly describe one’s reasoning.

Ch. 11 Restructuring the University

Universities should move away from creating departments based on academic subject areas and instead group people according to the ways that they think.
Schank proposes a 4-year program breaking down as follows:

Year 1: Take a course in each of the conceptual cognitive processes (Prediction, modeling, experimentation & evaluation) that would be taught by teams of professors whose academic subject area relies on these processes.

*But what about the subject-specific knowledge these students need in order to implement these cognitive processes? The idea is that students will learn it as required to work through their thinking experiences; “just-in time learning”. The notion that all of that knowledge needs to be front-loaded is flawed.

Year 2: Courses teaching the analytic processes (Diagnosis, Judgement, Planning & Causation) by professors skilled in those cognitive processes across academic areas. Students should be given experiences that allow them to try their hand at these analytic processes and receive evaluation & feedback from professors. The social process of Describing will come in to play here as students present their work in oral & written forms to their faculty and peers.

Year 3 & beyond: Allow student to chose whether or not they want to major in a subject area. They could even major in a subject area w/ a specialist in a cognitive process (e.g. financial diagnosis). Students should be allowed to choose a variety of courses across subject areas, cognitive processes, and job skills.

However, for this to work, high-schools would also need to change their format.

Ch. 12 How Not to Teach

Students don’t learn by being told facts or how to do something. Students learn through repeated practice; doing. We must teach students how to think and reason for themselves; not tell them what we already know to be true.

Teachers need to separate themselves from the assessment process. A teacher should guide a student’s learning, but someone else should be the final judge of a student’s ability or progress so that the student’s need to please the teacher and pass the test won’t become an impediment to their learning.

Teachers should teach practice first (the “how”) and theory/fact (the “what”) second, if at all. Students need to learn through doing, and will pick up facts and theory along the way as needed and in context. The reason most schools don’t work that way is because it is harder to test how a person does something than what they know.

Tell students the purpose of what you’re teaching them. But don’t lie and say they’ll need it later in life when they actually won’t (e.g. algebra). Don’t teach them things that you don’t have a purpose for.

Homework should only be repeated practice (not studying key terms, etc) or creating a product. Studying the theories cannot replace practice.

Teach students things they will likely need to know after leaving school. Students learn best when the learning goal is something they actually are motivated to reach; they must actually value that goal.

Act as a guide or mentor to help students determine and explain their own mistakes. They will remember their mistakes better this way.

Do not assume that a student has heard, or will remember, something you’ve said.

“… I do not think it is the job of a teacher to tell students facts. A teacher’s primary responsibility is to get student’s to understand the world better and to help enhance their capabilities. … Comprehension is … arrived at by thinking. Ability comes from practice.”

“Teachers can encourage thinking by making sure students have something confusing to think about.”

Ch. 13 How the Best Universities Inadvertantly Ruin our Schools

It does not make sense to teach every student the facts and knowledge-base needed for every career option in order to leave their options open for later. We should teach them how to think, and once they specialize in a discipline (in college/university or later) they can learn or be taught the knowledge base they need.

Universities are interested in 2 things: making money (from students & through the outside funding of their professors) and building their reputations in order to attract more students.

Most professors are interested in getting the lightest possible teaching load and generating the best reputation possible for themselves in the realm of academia. Undergraduate students pay the bills. Graduate students are given more attention as they might eventually become professors themselves & they take courses in which a professor gets to teach within his specialized field. Professors who are superstars in research & innovation are not necessarily any good at teaching.

Departments that don’t get much outside funding have difficulty growing (e.g. Mathematics). Their basic curriculums/knowledge base/facts get pushed down to the high-school curriculum so that students have the basics when they enter & professors won’t have to teach it to them. High-schools become a preparatory for universities because parents want them to help their children get accepted.

Most students go to univerity thinking it will prepare them for a job in their field of study. Yet most universities teach no job skills; they only prepare students to be researchers or academics in that field.

None of this will change until an alternative university model (e.g. online project-based courses) successfully competes against the current model and begins stealing students. In the meantime, high schools need to start teaching students how to think instead of preparing them for university in a one-size fits all subject-specific model.

Ch. 14 What Can We Do About It?

“Mariners do know physics, of course – practical physics about load balancing, for example – but they do not have to know how to derive the equations that describe it.”

Give studets choices. Provide experiences in the presence of a mentor.

Create experience-based, story-centered curriculum based on the cognitive processes and offer it online where anybody can access it.

Characteristics of the curriuculum Schanks envisions:
– experiential; learn by doing
– online
– mentorship; guiding students, not giving them facts or answers
– students regularly submit products for evaluation & feedback
– curriculum designed by experts in the field to provide a simulation of life (job) in that field
– requires students to work in teams (virtually Schanks says)
– provides students with choice of which course(s) to take
– project-based with clear goals

The obstacles to this model:
– finding the experts to build it
– paying the experts
– getting schools to change to this model
– training teachers to be mentors


– Laura Wheeler (Teacher @ Ridgemont High School, OCDSB; Ottawa, ON)